An Adventure Into the Unknown... a father and sons SRT 70-Mile experience

      Important Information...

SRT Class of '21
I want to start by saying thank you to all the amazing people that made this event possible including RD Ken, Todd, and the various volunteers at checkpoints, search and rescue teams, and so many others. Without them none of this would have been possible. Ken encourages donations to the NY-NJ Trail Conference who maintain the SRT and trails throughout  the Hudson Valley. As an employee of the trail conference (NYNJTC's Conservation Corps Trail Crew program) that is truly appreciated! Ken also runs a not-for-profit called Run Wild and their mission is "to support environmental conservation in the Hudson Valley and beyond." That hits home as a Hudson Valley local that has grown up here and uses the trails for leisure AND now for work! So thank you Ken and everyone else for the work that you do in and outside of the race. This truly was a journey of immense magnitude that I will cherish for the rest of my life.

    This race was just not any race, at least for my father it wasn't. It has some backstory with personal struggle. This is a tale of redemption. My dad had signed up for the the SRT back in 2017. Unfortunately it didn't work out for him so well. He ultimately failed to make cutoff by 20 minutes at mile 54(Jenny) with his running partner Matt. It came down to being under trained, unprepared, and really bad blisters according to my dad.. 
    So 2021 is here and I'm now an ultra runner. Not having a big race planned yet I was an open book. I became more intrigued after speaking about it with my dad and I started some heavy researching about this race.I read that any runner who completes the course in sandals would receive a barefoot pin in recognition of the minimalist spirit of the race. This really caught my eye and loved the idea of that since I had been running in sandals for the past year. I believe that is what sealed it for me and I immediately went on ultra signup and registered.   
     At the time my dad had absolutely no interest in attempting this beast again.  He had no races planned but when we started discussing it, he felt he was in much better shape than he was in his previous attempt. When he found out the race would actually take place on his 50th birthday, I think he felt it was his destiny to sign up and finish what he had started 4 years ago. Imagine that, father and son taking on the one and only DNF my father has ever received on his birthday. It was time for my father to redeem himself. There ya have it, it was on. 


    September 10th, my dad's 50th birthday!! We spent most of the day packing up and going over the trail maps. Dads birthday celebration would be on hold until after we finished this race. We had to focus on the beast ahead of us.
Before the start
    Finally, it was time to get in the car and begin our hour drive up to the Rosendale finish line and catch the bus up to the start. The drive was mostly silent. We were both in our own heads I suppose. I mean we were about to embark on the biggest physical challenge of our lives together. It was exciting yet nerve racking.
    I hadn't had the best training leading up to this race whatsoever. Longest run was just over 8hrs and distance was 50k with 7500ft of vert. That was my last long run... 6 weeks out before the race!! I injured myself on a shorter run that put me out for an entire month of running before the race. I decided I still wanted to try the race, having to cancel other races earlier in the year I really wanted to do this especially for my dad. Luckily for him he had nearly no training issues. It was the best training block of his life. He was feeling the strongest he ever has going into a race. He was definitely ready. For me, it was just so unknown. I was going to surpass my longest run by 40 miles, and run through the entire night which I've never done. My dad had experience with all of this back in 2017, so that boosted my confidence a bit. But in reality I think I was still just downright scared.
Start of the Race @AT/SRT Junction
    We get to Rosendale and greet the RDs Ken and Todd, and see all the other racers getting their things ready. Excitement was in the air no doubt. After triple checking everything, I strap on my bib number and head onto the bus. We had another hour commute back to the start line 70 miles away in High Point Park, NJ. Again I was silent for the most part. I just threw on some music and closed my eyes most of the ride. 
    When we arrive in High Point we have 5 minutes to do whatever we have to which definitely meant one last bathroom visit. It was chilly but more windier than I thought so I put on my long sleeve on under my flannel. After a quick race briefing and a photo of the SRT Class of 2021, we hiked down to the start of the SRT course where it intersects with the Appalachian Trail. On our walk down Todd, one of the RDs asked me how long I've run in sandals and I said about a year. He told me that some other guys were doing the 30miler in sandals but they've been running in them for 15 years. I'll be honest, I thought to myself what the hell am I getting into. But no time to think, It was finally here, we made it to the start with about 2 minutes till go time we eagerly waited until 6:30pm.

      Miles 0-17...

    With a ten second countdown, we were off. 21 starters set out from High Point to Rosendale 70 miles away. We were in for a journey. Things started as you might expect. The first miles were super exciting and you could feel the energy. It didn't feel so much like a race, more like something we were all doing together. Me and my dad were towards the back of the pack as planned. We were gonna take it easy and just see how things went and pace off each other.
My fashionable skirt
    Only about 4 miles or so in, it was time for headlamps since it was probably about 7:30pm or so. The forecast was projected to be  near perfect for running. Upper 40s through the night and low 70s during the day. I felt like I would be fine and I had all the necessary clothing I'd need. However I'd run into my first issue as soon as it got dark. I was getting cold due to the wind. Really cold. I sweat early on and the wind was making me freezing. We still maintained a solid pace because not moving obviously wouldn't do me any good. This ended up going on for a couple hours, probably a good 10 miles I was extremely uncomfortable. I tried various clothing options and nothing seemed to work, I was either sweating or freezing. My dad had the idea to strap my wet clothing on his pack while we run, and I was wearing a rain jacket. I was sweating yet freezing simultaneously but it allowed for my other clothes to dry. I eventually would put my original clothes back on and the wind in the night died down around the same time. Good news for me.  Then I tied my jacket around my waist backwards like a skirt for extra warmth.. Problem finally solved.

    When I finally got into a groove and was comfortable with my temperature it was around the 13 mile mark. This is when the 8pm runners passed us(SRT racers have the option to start late due to Minnewaska permits.. Runners will be held at checkpoint 3 until 5am.) It was surprising to see them so early! They were moving FAST! A couple of easy miles later and we made it to checkpoint 1, 17 miles in and feeling really solid!

     Miles 17-27...

    At checkpoint 1 we were asked by the search and rescue teams if anyone was behind us because it was supposed to be the last runner to get checked. We said no, but moments later a headlamp would appear and there he was. We set off to checkpoint 2 and soon the last runner would pass us making me and my dad officially the back of the pack. This didn't phase us because we were still making really great time and feeling super solid. We took time to get some water and refill a couple miles in even though I wasn't completely out. It was our first refill of the race.

    The next section of the course was pretty runnable terrain and flat. We were able to maintain a solid pace throughout clocking some of our fastest miles throughout the course. However it was the wetlands of the course. Super swampy in some areas forcing your feet to get wet to about shin level. It lasted for a while and we just got used to it. There was just no way around. It didn't seem to bother me or my dad but it definitely slowed us down a bit.     
    We made it to the town of Wurtsburo and didn't see a single car. A bit creepy but hey it was the middle of the night. A couple mile road section ended this segment of the course to checkpoint 2. It was the same search and rescue guys from checkpoint 1! You guys are awesome.    

Miles 27-39...

Made it through the dark!
    At just over a marathon into the race and over 8 hours, my dad's birthday has officially ended.. We shared some laughs about it as we headed into a harder section of the course. Until now most of the course I'd say was pretty moderate....but the climbs were upon us. Right out of checkpoint 2 we started our climb along the ridge. It was definitely the biggest climb of the run so far, but if you ask me it didn't feel like much. It's really hard to perceive how much you're climbing when it's completely dark.. You're just in your own little world following this bubble of light in front of you. Up or down it was just one foot in front of the other. We saw the mystical porcupine up the first climb as everybody seems to know about. My dad said it was in the same spot as in 2017. Crazy. My dad would end up filtering some water but I skipped out on it.            
    At this point we caught up to some runners. We ended up linking up with another racer Cathy for most of this section playing ping pong through the night. We worked off each other trading lead often and helping with navigation. Up until this point navigation was pretty easy. The all trails app worked and I ended up taking lead on navigation. There were times we went off course but never for more than a tenth of a mile or so.

    The sun was just starting to pop out as we made it to the top of the last climb on this ridge section.. We caught an absolutely beautiful sunrise before the descent to checkpoint 3. Our spirits were lifted when the sun hit. We definitely were waiting all night on it and it came at the perfect time. We made our way down the steep descent which soon flattened out to easy runnable downhill and we clocked some great miles here. We would pass a couple more runners in this section before arriving to mile 39, checkpoint 3. This was around 8am. 

    Miles 39-54...

    We had until 4:30pm to cover the next section. This in my opinion is where things got a bit more difficult. Maybe it was the 40 miles in our legs, maybe it was the sleep deprivation, but damn this next section was hard. We were now entering Minneswaska. It started wit the biggest climb of the course. About a 3 mile climb going from 600ft topping out at 2300ft to Sams Point. As brutal as it sounds it actually wasn't that bad. We were still riding the high from the sun and pumped that we were making great time. My dad used this time to text my mom how we were doing and snap some pictures. 

     As we made it near the top of the climb we reached the parking lot and visitor center area at Sams Point. Here we could fill up water from the water fountain and not worry about filtration. The race doesn't allow any aid but you can utilize anything that is offered to the public. So a quick water stop there and we were on our way to the top of Sams Point. The views were absolutely incredible. It was my first time up there and I was shocked. A great reward for a tough climb. 

    This section got rugged real fast. Probably the rockiest terrain I've been on. Hard to move fast even though it was more downhill and flat. The rocks were just in such awkward positions for so long it felt so hard to move. To make matters even worse we reached another flooded section of trail but luckily it didn't last too long. This time it was nearly to my knees though.  This section was proving to be tough and it's definitely known for that. 

rock squeeze :P
    This was the section that my dad got lost in and missed cutoff back in 2017. But not this time. Navigation really wasn't a problem so far for us. I was still going strong on all trails. The portable charger I brought was a smart decision  We made our way onward through the rock scramble(literal climbing in sections) my dad told me about that haunted him. When we made it to the top we were hyped because it was way easier than we both anticipated. A cool feature of the course was also this little rock squeeze type of thing. When you go in its pitch black but a step further and you see light(not sure where it was on course but definitely this section.) 

    This section never really got easier onward, it was just rough and rugged, extremely rocky, lots of roots sticking out and quite steep in areas. We were so happy to have finished the scramble and feeling that it wasn't as bad as we were anticipating, it would soon turn into what seemed like a never ending section. It was kind of the first time we thought "oh shit, we got a ways to go still" being 50+miles in already. This whole time though I think we passed a ton of runners. Maybe 6 or so, in this whole 13 mile stretch. So morale wasn't low, but I'd say we were cautiously optimistic. 

Top of the scramble
    We struggled down the last carriage road descent which was quite technical and long. We were definitely starting to hurt a bit especially my dads feet and quads on descents. My dad's first signs of nutrition difficulties started to occur as well. He was getting nauseous with all of his food options. I told him everything would be good as soon as we hit the checkpoint, it was only a couple miles away. We would eventually make it to checkpoint 4 at mile 54! 

    This was exact location is where my dad missed cutoff 4 years ago by 20 minutes. This was great news because we got there around 2:45pm (almost 2 hours before cutoff). This meant we were on course for over 20 hours! We were making great time but we were out of water and needed to take a break to re-organize as well. It ended up being the longest but most needed break. We were there for 15 minutes. It gave us time to stretch, squat and rest the muscles a bit while we took care of ourselves. I got my water filtered and re-organized and my dad did the same. He cleaned his shoes out of rocks and mud. This whole time my feet were fine in the sandals. A few minutes went by and two runners would appear behind us dropping out. We would pack out by 3pm, with16 miles to go with 9 hours until the final cutoff. Plenty of time... right? what could go wrong... right? 

Miles 54-59...

Rainbow Falls
    You would think with 54 miles down and only 16 to go that's nothing, and we thought that up until that point. We talked about getting to Jenny(mile 54) all the time before the race. It was a big goal since my dad met his physical demise there before and never ran farther than that distance. Same for me! Not to mention we've probably been awake for close to 30 hours at this point. But we were feeling good, at least to the point of finishing. The course was now completely new for the both of us.

    We would run into a problem quite soon. My dads bladder wasn't working. He originally thought the straw was bent, but after another look that wasn't the case. He had to push the connector together in order to get water. This would require him taking off his pack every time he needed water, so he ended up rigging the bladder to the side of his pack. Honestly it was good thinking. It was awkward though because it was heavy and he had to hold it with one arm but it worked for the meantime. My dad also really started to not each much of anything. He was getting sick of everything, nothing I had could help him either so it was a tough situation. His body at this point was just rejecting everything, luckily water he could have. We pushed on, knowing this could be a big problem in the coming hours.

    Most of this next section went on fine. I don't remember much of the course in details from here on out. Everything just started to feel the same. We didn't run into any issues the rest of this short 5 mile section, but things were hurting no doubt. My dad was still carrying that damn bladder. There was very little running from here on out. Even though the checkpoints got closer in distance(much closer) they seemed so far away. We were moving slow but fast enough. We would take it checkpoint by checkpoint from here on out, calculating how much time we had to get there before cutoff, and we had plenty of time. I think we could have done 30min miles the last 16 or so if we had to. Eventually we made it to checkpoint 5 maintaining a solid pace and buffer over the cutoff time. I think we had an hour and a half before cutoff which would put us around 5pm. Another quick stop just to reorganize nutrition and we were off. My dad was still is carrying his bladder, definitely lighter at this point but he wasn't complaining about it and we were still moving solid. 

Miles 59-64...

    After some nice words from the volunteers at checkpoint 5 that got us pumped, we were off! 11 miles to go baby. Just one more 5 mile section, and a 6 mile section after that and we are done! It doesn’t sound too bad and that was our mentality, even though we were hurting we were nearly 90% done with the course. That’s huge. But in these type of races you really start to slow down towards the end, at least that was the case for us.

Happiness at mile 50 
    As we left in pursuit for checkpoint 6, we would head into a long gradual climb. it was probably close to half of the section, about 3 miles and it just felt like it went on and on and on. We had just hit the 24hr mark and aIl remember really soon after that I was starting to feel dizzy. It was hard to focus on things in front of me and I seriously felt like I was going to pass out. I’d stop close my eyes, and put my feet up on a tree to hopefully get blood flow back to me head. This was my dad’s idea which seemed to work. However this would persist basically until the end of the section. I’d walk a few minutes get dizzy and have to sit down. It must’ve been around 6 or 7 stops. It didn’t make any sense. I was drinking good and eating good this entire race. I looked at my dad and told him I seriously that I didn’t think I would be able to finish. We had about 8 miles to go in the race and I felt like I hit my limit then and there. I was feeling pretty rough and was on the edge of passing out. Heading into the night with this condition scared me to be honest. In reality though it was my mind playing tricks on me. We had 8 miles to go but I knew it would take us several more hours. After 24+ hours on my feet this sounded like the easy way out. 

    As for my dad, he was in pretty rough shape. About two thirds through the climb, his quad started to cramp up really bad. It was to the point of making him stop and massage his quads out. He's had this issue in the past. He was really behind on food, having small sips of apple sauce was all his stomach could handle. He must've had under 100 calories in the past couple of hours. With us having pretty serious issues at this point didn’t think we could finish. Even with the extra time I seriously didn't know if my body could keep going. I initiated the conversation and my dad agreed he thought it might not be smart to continue, especially with how I was feeling. My dad says now(postSRT) that he saw it as an easy way out for him too. He wasn't going to continue if I wasn't. He was struggling a lot more physically than I was but for me, this was all mental.    

to the finish!!
    Then the unexpected happened. We ascended this last climb(we thought at the time) just outside checkpoint 6, came to a grass opening and came upon another runner! His name was Titus. It had been HOURS since we saw one. I actually thought it was a 30 miler at first, but he was on the phone with the RD trying to get directions I believe. Having my navigation be fine with my phone we offered to guide him through to the checkpoint because it was right there. He admitted that he wasn't feeling too great himself having lots of hallucinations, and having trouble navigating. We still thought to this point that we were dropping out, and we asked him if he was but he said he was going to finish. Right as this happened I heard the sound of a roaring stream, I immediately turned to my dad and said lets fill up everything here(we happened to be nearly out of water), and he looked at me in confusion and asked "you're not dropping?" NOPE. For some profound reason I felt like I could do it. I hadn't felt lightheaded since we met up with Titus, the runner we picked up. Now I had this sudden boost of energy. Was it Titus? Was it the water? All I knew was I was going to finish. My dad just followed the way. We weren't dropping no more. Shortly after this we made it to checkpoint 6 finally. We made it there around 7pm having still an hour and a half until cutoff. We had 5 hours to do about 6 miles. Plenty of time, even if we had to crawl. And a crawl it came to be. Ken the RD said to us 3 as we were passing by the 
checkpoint that he had some nice warm seats in his car if we wanted to get a ride back to the finish. I think I just laughed.     

Miles 64-70...

    6 miles left. That's all it was. And this section would be the only one that had marking tape, so navigation we thought would be easier. Over 24hours in and we were moving. Sure, it was slow but we were moving. Titus was gonna hang with us until the finish. We all didn't really talk much, but it was time to whip out the headlamps again. As soon as my light went on I felt so focused. It definitely helped me. We were climbing what would be the last climb of the course. It was a nice gravel road for most of it which was nice but the descent would prove to be much worse. Back on the trails though , the terrain got gnarly again. pretty steep and rocky, it was the worst type of terrain for the quads this far into the race but it was the last one. It would prove to be extremely difficult for my dad especially.
    Having almost no food in him for the past few hours he would start uncontrollably dry heaving down the steep descent. We both knew it was from food but I still mentioned it, and it was the first time with both kind of lost our cool. I was frustrated not knowing if we’d make cutoff due to how slow we were moving, I voiced my opinion and we had a small argument. It was the only time we argued but it only lasted about 30seconds. My dads dry heaving would go on the whole descent and it was brutal. All me and Titus could do was just stop and wait until he was done dry heaving. It was slow moving but we still had a tremendous gap on cutoff, could have done nearly 1hr miles if we needed. Good thing too because this would be with our a doubt the slowest section for us. Our fastest mile being 25 minutes in this last 6 mile stretch. 
Heather and Francessca at the finish line! #RunPB
    Finally after a while things flattened out a bit and seemed less technical, but it was a trade off for muddy and wet flats. We were only a couple miles away from the rail trail(last half mile of the course.) Navigation while it was dark constantly looking for the flagging tape proved to be difficult. At the time it just seemed really hard to follow the trail because everything was unmarked and there was only tape at certain places. The last 6 miles of the course is not an official trail, so I think that made it harder. But with a few stops here and there we were able to stay on course. When it flattened out a bit my dad stopped dry heaving and we were finally able to move consistently. I knew from this point on we were gonna finish and I was so happy. It only took 67 miles or so. I whipped my phone out at this point to call my mom because I knew she was worried about us and thought we would have finished a bit sooner. 

    We now just had a couple flat miles and we would be finished the race. Nearing 28 hours it was so crazy to think about how far we’ve come. We just had one more obstacle in our way. GIANT BEES!!! They are actually called cicada killers. All of the sudden when we are finally hiking at a solid pace on the flats these giant bees were attracted to our headlamps. They we’re absolutely massive. Probably about the size of my index finger. We would have to all stop and turn out lights off and wait for them to buzz away. This went on about 3-4 times and one of them got caught in my hair where my dad had to pull it out. I couldn’t believe it, after over 27hours of running, over 100k in, and only a couple miles left we were now dealing with this! The SRT gods must’ve hated all of us that day. Eventually the bees would stop and/or we got away from them. 
    Soon after our bee attack we made it to the rail trail. Now it was just a little over a half mile to the finish. It was such a relief. Titus hung back from here on because navigation was over. The rail trail was the finish so we parted ways.It was awesome sharing the last few miles with someone else! It helped keep morale higher! Me and my dad took the lead and made our way to the town of Rosendale, 70 miles away from where we had originally started. Our last obstacle was crossing the giant restored train trestle way above the town. I say obstacle because my dad has a problem with heights. Not long into being on the trestle my dad started to panic because he looked over the edge by accident. He then grabbed the back of my pack and we walked through it together. He was absolutely frightened but I think the lack of food and sleep just made his fear even more heightened. After the trestle we knew we would be finishing any minute. There was a ton of excitement but still so much pain. We power hiked through the rail trail until we saw lights, that’s when we finally could run the last tenth of a mile or so. We were greeted by the last volunteers that guided us off the trail and the finish was just a couple hundred feet away. We could here cheering and shouting as we came off the trail. 
    It’s really hard to put into words the exact feeling at this moment, but I was damn happy. We crossed the finish line with an official time of 28:02:15. Securing 11th and 12th overall in a field of 15 finishers and 22 starters! Congrats to all the hard workers out there! It was a grind, that's for sure. Crazy to see that someone ran it in 16:22:52!! Congrats Russ on the new course record, and for the female division Kaitlynn with an astounding 19:12:03(2nd overall, beating the CR by over 4 hours!!) It was a pleasure to have been amongst such amazing individuals.

    Finish Line/Post Race

Barefoot pin!
    Our friends from our local run club(RunPB) had just run the 30miler together so they decided to stay and watch us finish! It was so awesome having friends at the finish cheering us in! We weren't expecting it. Thanks so much Heather, Francessca, and Ed!! When we finished I was so ecstatic, I couldn’t stop laughing and smiling. I honestly just couldn’t believe what we had just done. We were on the absolute edge of dropping out of this race but we pulled it together. It was just a crazy feeling. My dad was a bit more shook than me. He still looked like he was in survival mode. I mean it made sense because he hadn’t eaten in hours.

    After talking for a brief moment at the finish line, we needed to take a seat. Like most ultras there was post race food and beverages. Honestly we couldn’t even look at food right now let alone a beer. Everyone offered us some but my stomach couldn’t handle it and definitely not my dad either! I was talking to Todd post race and he let me know that I was the second person ever to complete the course in sandals! He then awarded me with the barefoot pin. The pin that made me sign up for this race in the first place. I couldn't be happier. I would also come to realize I was the youngest ever to complete the course according to ultrasignup records. My only goal was to finish(and my dad too) so we were just so happy to be done! We didn’t stay too long because it was 1030pm at night and we still had an hour drive home. Luckily Ed was there from run club and offered to drive us to our car a half mile away. Walking there would have been brutal. Now the real ultra would begin, driving home after 80 miles, 28hrs, and 40+hrs of being awake. This was going to be fun.

     The drive home allowed us to process everything that had just happened. We were so hyped, just riding the high the whole way home, which is probably why I felt so awake. My dad and I switched off. I took the first 30mins and then he did the rest. We eventually made it to our house in Highland Falls alive and well! Now it’s time to rest up and plan for the next!

    As always thanks for reading. I appreciate each and every single one of you :)
        ya boi mottsy :)

1 comment:

  1. DUDE!!!! Finally got around to reading the whole thing. Congrats man, sounds like the adventure of a lifetime!